Nicole MacKee - Monday, 30 May, 2016
THE importance of building a solid evidence base for the role of medicinal cannabis products must not be lost in moves to make the drug more widely available, say researchers.
In a Perspective published online by the MJA today, researchers have called for “considered management” in the wake of federal reforms to enable the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes in Australia.
Sussan Ley, federal Minister for Health, described the federal legislation as the “missing piece” in the supply of cannabis to patients.
However, the MJA authors said many questions were yet to be answered, including efficacy, safety, dose, storage, and the bioavailability of the various cannabinoids via different administration routes.
Lead author Professor Jennifer Martin, chair of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Newcastle, said that there was a general perception of medicinal cannabis as a panacea for a whole range of ills.
“The overriding desire to have cannabis available has meant that this has gone much more quickly than it would for other therapies,” said Professor Martin, who is involved in the New South Wales Health-funded medicinal cannabis trials.
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Published: Thursday 5 May 2016
According to new research at Western University, marijuana is the ultimate contradiction; at least when it comes to schizophrenia.
This first-of-its-kind study, published in the journal Neuroscience, demonstrates that a chemical found in marijuana called cannabidiol, or CBD, affects the brain in a way that makes it an ideal treatment option for schizophrenia. This research comes just months after the same lab found that adolescent exposure to THC, the other major compound found in marijuana, may lead to the onset of schizophrenia in adulthood.
"CBD is acting in a way that is the exact opposite to what THC is doing," said Steven Laviolette, PhD, associate professor at Western University's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "Within the same plant, you've got two different chemicals that are producing opposite effects in terms of psychiatric effects, molecular signaling and effects on the dopamine pathway."
Using pre-clinical models in rodents, Laviolette and his team, led by postdoctoral fellow Justine Renard, PhD, showed that CBD can normalize schizophrenia-like disturbances in the brain's dopamine system. By doing so, CBD alleviates schizophrenia-related symptoms linked to abnormal dopamine activity such as psychosis and cognitive problems. The researchers also demonstrated that the chemical is bypassing the molecular pathway in the brain that causes the negative side-effects typically seen in traditional antipsychotic medications.
"One of the biggest problems in treating schizophrenia is that there hasn't been an effective new treatment on the market in a very long time," said Laviolette. "The drugs on the market today have limited efficacy and horrible side effects; there is a desperate need for safer alternative medications."
While CBD has shown promise as a treatment for schizophrenia in previous studies, this research is the first to show exactly how it acts on the brain to have positive results in mitigating psychiatric symptoms without causing the fatigue, lack of motivation and other side-effects associated with traditional medications.
"When we measured the molecular changes that happened in the brain, we found that the effects of CBD were bypassing traditional molecular pathways that are activated by antipsychotic drugs. We think that's one of the reasons that it has better tolerability and fewer side-effects," he said.
By Bertha Madras April 29 2016
Each week, In Theory takes on a big idea in the news and explores it from a range of perspectives. This week, we’re talking about drug scheduling. Need a primer? Catch up here.
Bertha Madras is a professor of psychobiology at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, with a research focus on how drugs affect the brain. She is former deputy director for demand reduction in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Data from 2015 indicate that 30 percent of current cannabis users harbor a use disorder — more Americans are dependent on cannabis than on any other illicit drug. Yet marijuana advocates have relentlessly pressured the federal government to shift marijuana from Schedule I — the most restrictive category of drug — to another schedule or to de-schedule it completely. Their rationale? “States have already approved medical marijuana”; “rescheduling will open the floodgates for research”; and “many people claim that marijuana alone alleviates their symptoms.”
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